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Some Pauline Beatitudes

And when Paul entered into the house of Onesiphorus, there was great joy, and bowing of knees and breaking of bread, and the word of God concerning abstinence (or continence) and the resurrection; for Paul said:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are they that keep the flesh chaste, for they shall become the temple of God.

Blessed are they that abstain (or the continent), for unto them shall God speak.

Blessed are they that have renounced this world, for they shall be well-pleasing unto God.

Blessed are they that possess their wives as though they had them not, for they shall inherit God.

Blessed are they that have the fear of God, for they shall become angels [messengers?] of God.

Blessed are they that tremble at the oracles of God, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are they that receive the wisdom of Jesus Christ, for they shall be called sons of the Most High.

Blessed are they that have kept their baptism pure, for they shall rest with the Father and with the Son.

Blessed are they that have compassed the understanding of Jesus Christ, for they shall be in light.

Blessed are they that for love of God have departed from the fashion of this world, for they shall judge angels, and shall be blessed at the right hand of the Father.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy and shall not see the bitter day of judgement.

Blessed are the bodies of the virgins, for they shall be well-pleasing unto God and shall not lose the reward of their continence (chastity), for the word of the Father shall be unto them a work of salvation in the day of his Son, and they shall have rest world without end.

~ Acts of Paul (and Thecla)

Today in the Orthodox Church we commemorate the holy virgin St. Thecla. The account of her meeting with St. Paul and how she miraculously escaped martyrdom several times comes right after these Pauline beatitudes in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, a product of the era of the Apostolic Fathers of Christian literature or just after (a late first- or second-century text).

While, of course, one may question the details of the story, there seems to be strong evidence that there was indeed a St. Thecla of Iconium, and St. Paul did in fact travel there and preach there. But I’m not so concerned about historical curiosities as I am about the text itself: Whatever else they may be, writings like this were meant to be didactic, and so we need not be historians to learn something valuable from the text. View full article »

Racism and Asceticism

40a3c679a8a8c232f2bfaf15d6698bdfAt a meeting of monks in Scete, the old men wanted to test Abba Moses. So they poured scorn on him, saying: “Who is this blackamoor that has come among us?” Moses heard them, but said nothing. When the meeting had dispersed, the men who had given the insults, asked him: “Were you not troubled in your heart?” He answered: “I was troubled, and I said nothing.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Today is the feast day of St. Moses the Ethiopian, also known as St. Moses the Black. (I’ll give you three guesses why.)

As this saying shows racism is not new. No doubt it grows naturally (however viciously) from our tribal pasts, when one’s society was also one’s extended family. Not only were customs and culture shared, so was DNA and, thus, common physical characteristics. View full article »

Some Virtues of Impure Prayer

The Holy Spirit, out of compassion for our weakness, comes to us even when we are impure. And if only He finds our intellect truly praying to Him, He enters it and puts to flight the whole array of thoughts and ideas circling within it, and He arouses it to a longing for spiritual prayer.

~ Evagrios, On Prayer

This reminds me of Jesus’s words to Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wills; you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it is going. So with everyone who is born from spirit” (John 3:8).

Evargios seems at once broader and narrower in his meaning, however. He’s not clearly talking about baptism, whereas, in context, that is how Jesus’s words have traditionally been understood. Those who are baptized are “born again” or “born from above” (the Greek could mean either). We are born of the flesh from our mothers, but spiritually born again through baptism. View full article »

Unceasing Prayer is for Everyone

Let no one think, my Christian Brethren, that only persons in holy orders, or monks, are obliged to pray unceasingly and at all times, but not laymen. No, no! It is the duty of all us Christians to remain always in prayer.

~ St. Gregory Palamas, On the Necessity of Constant Prayer for all Christians in General

This is both an encouraging and a hard saying. It is encouraging because it affirms the focus of this blog, everyday asceticism. It is hard because it seemingly sets the bar so high. View full article »

The Beauty of Lent

In honor of the start of Western Lent on this Ash Wednesday (Orthodox Lent doesn’t start until March), I wrote a short reflection for Ethika Politika.

In ancient Egypt there lived an abbess named Sarah. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers reports of her that “for sixty years she lived on the bank of a river, and never looked down to see the water.”

As someone who loves all the sights of this world that God created good and beautiful (Genesis 1), it took me a long time to have some inkling why ancient Christians would find this story admirable. Did Sarah not appreciate the goodness of creation? Did she have an unhealthy, negative assessment of the material world?

We don’t know the answer. There is no more to the story. But I’ve come to see that there is another way of understanding it that gets at the heart of Lent.

Read more here.

I recently came across this passage from St. Theophan the Recluse. The idea of everyday asceticism isn’t new: View full article »

I just read this, and it’s too good not to share. It is from The Light Shineth in the Darkness the Russian Orthodox Philosopher S. L. Frank:

A number of monastic orders have directly set as their practical task the religious and moral action on the world. On the other hand, it is also sufficiently well known, alas, how often monks have brought in their souls the powers of the world even into the monastery and how often they have been imprisoned by these powers in the monastery. And contrarily, Christians who live in the world and are open to all the temptations of the world are compelled—insofar as they are at all Christians—to observe in the depths of their soul the life-in-God detached from the world, i.e., to perform invisibly the function of monks. And if the Christian faith presupposes a universal priesthood, then in this sense it also presupposes a kind of invisible universal monkhood, realized in the depths of souls. Every Christian must in a certain sense be a “monk” in the eternally pagan world.

Just as inconsistent is the widespread identification of the duality under consideration with the distinction between the “religious” life of man and his “worldly” or secular life; or, in the collective plane, the distinction between the church (understood as a union or organization of believers) and the worldly powers of the state politics, secular culture, and so on. From this point of view, a Christian is a Christian only insofar as he prays, fasts, attends church, and so on. Beyond these limits, a man is not a “Christian” but the performer of some secular function, a soldier, bureaucrat, merchant, or scholar; and the Christian church is but one of the entities and powers of the world, like the family, the state, professional associations, trade, industry, science, art, etc.

In reality, however, the “religious” life of a Christian is not some particular sphere of his life and activity, but his very being. (143-144)

The Mark of a Man

Abba Poemen said: “The mark of the true monk only appears under temptation.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers

We could easily say the same for any man or woman. It is a strange thing about life that sometimes its best blessings, rightly understood, are tragic. View full article »

Humility and Secrecy

One of the holy men named Philagrius lived in Jerusalem and laboured to earn himself enough to eat. And when he was standing in the market-square trying to sell what he had made, by chance a bag fell on the ground near him, containing a great many shillings. The old man found it, and stood there thinking, “The loser must soon come here.” And soon the man who had lost it came lamenting. So Philagrius took him apart and gave him back his bag. The owner asked him to accept some of the shillings, but the old man would have nothing. Then the owner began to shout and call: “Come and see what the man of God has done.” But the old man fled away unperceived, and went out of the town, so that they should not know what he had done, nor pay him honour.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Abba Philagrius demonstrates well the admonition of Christ,

Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (Matthew 6:2-4)

Not wanting the praise of men for his reward, Abba Philagrius fled, knowing that praise can induce pride, and pride destroys compassion and humility, which are better than any material reward.

There is something else about this story, however, that I find insightful. View full article »

‘Gossip, Slander, and Complaining’

An old man said: “… If anyone speaks to you on a matter of controversy, do not argue with him. If he speaks well, say ‘Yes.’ If he speaks ill, say ‘l am ignorant in the matter.’ But argue not with what he has said, and then your mind will be at peace.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Obviously “Everyday Asceticism” does not refer to frequency of publication. But as this saying reminds us, sometimes—perhaps most of the time—it is better not to speak at all. View full article »